Christian Bale's 23 Most Electrifying Performances, Ranked

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For 40 years, Christian Bale has proven himself to be a force of nature in the performing arts, a status he hopes to further cement with his upcoming villainous performance in Thor: Love and Thunder.

Marvel Studios

With this high-profile MCU role on the horizon, I've decided to rank Christian Bale's most remarkable performances to remind the world why he's been at the top of his craft for so long.

23.Public Enemies

"Public Enemies"

Christian Bale's performance of the firm yet obsessive Melvin Purvis in Michael Mann's period piece crime drama is solid, but it is also surprisingly run-of-the-mill for the usually more lively actor.

Universal Pictures / Alamy

22.Equilibrium

"Equilibrium"

Christian Bale is effective as a stone-cold killing machine who must rediscover his humanity and empathy in this exciting (though very on-the-nose) dystopian sci-fi thriller.

Dimension Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

21.I’m Not There

"I'm Not There"

He may be effortlessly gripping as a Bob Dylan surrogate in this indie cult favorite, but Bale feels somewhat miscast depicting the poetic (and frequently stark) musical legend during one of the most public and iconic periods in his career.

Weinstein Company / Courtesy Everett Collection

20.Shaft

"Shaft"

Christian Bale shines in a more limited but ultimately scene-stealing performance as the racist heir to a real estate tycoon who runs afoul of Samuel L. Jackson's badass titular NYC detective.

PARAMOUNT PICTURES / Ronald Grant Archive / Mary Evans / Courtesy Everett Collection

19.Newsies

"Newsies"

While the film was a critical and commercial failure, Christian Bale's energetic lead performance was often lauded as the best part of this overly-ambitious musical.

Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

18.American Hustle

"American Hustle"

Make no mistake: Christian Bale is nothing short of great in American Hustle, but his performance as a sleazy, oddball grifter, which would normally stand out in any other crime flick, feels shockingly defanged when compared to the borderline cartoonish turns from Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence in this big-budget Scorsese knock-off.

Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

17.Reign of Fire

"Reign of Fire"

In a less flashy but rather compelling lead role, Christian Bale sells the journey of an ordinary man under extraordinary circumstances in this underrated sci-fi epic about an alternate reality in which modern mankind is besieged by long-dormant dragons.

Walt Disney Co. / Courtesy Everett Collection

16.The Dark Knight Rises

"The Dark Knight Rises"

In his final performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman (to date), Bale brings a level of insecurity and guilt to the role, even if it doesn't quite carry the same emotional weight as his previous takes on the character.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

15.Velvet Goldmine

"Velvet Goldmine"

Todd Haynes' stylish fictionalization of the '70s glam rock scene offers another intriguing and immersive performance from Bale, though it's a supporting performance that barely makes a mark compared to the more commanding turns from Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor.

Miramax / Courtesy Everett Collection

14.The New World

"The New World"

In Terrence Malick's critically-acclaimed retelling of the Pocahontas story, Christian Bale offers a markedly more compassionate, stable, and kind role than his usual on-screen opportunities as John Rolfe.

New Line Cinema / Courtesy Everett Collection

13.Harsh Times

"Harsh Times"

Christian Bale is absolutely magnetic in David Ayer's directorial debut as an erratic and volatile Gulf War veteran who turns to dangerous criminal enterprises after failing to find a legitimate government job.

Bauer Martinez Films / Everett Collection

12.Batman Begins

"Batman Begins"

Christian Bale's inaugural performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman was incredibly physical, multi-faceted, and brought a level of gravitas to both personalities previously unforeseen in previous Batman films.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

11.3:10 to Yuma

"3:10 to Yuma"

Bale perfectly balances bull-headed determination with fearful vulnerability as a rancher with everything to lose who must take a charismatic yet violent outlaw to a prison train while trying to avoid the outlaw's bloodthirsty and unforgiving gang.

Lions Gate / Courtesy Everett Collection

10.Ford v. Ferrari

"Ford v. Ferrari"

Christian Bale is phenomenal as the temperamental and brash driver in this true-life story of Ford's attempt to re-establish its dominance in the automotive market by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. / Courtesy Everett Collection

9.The Big Short

"The Big Short"

Christian Bale's largely isolated yet nonetheless show-stopping performance as the hedge fund manager that successfully predicted the 2008 housing market crash remains a highlight of Adam McKay's stellar dramedy.

Paramount / Courtesy Everett Collection

8.The Machinist

"The Machinist"

In his most shockingly transformative role, Christian Bale is absolutely hypnotic as a gaunt insomniac who believes he is being stalked and harassed by a mysterious new coworker.

Paramount Classics / Courtesy Everett Collection

7.The Dark Knight

"The Dark Knight"

Bale's outing as Bruce Wayne/Batman is definitely his most memorable of the trilogy, largely thanks to the actor elevating his game with his new dance partners, including Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and, of course, the late Heath Ledger.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

6.Rescue Dawn

"Rescue Dawn"

Bale teams with director Werner Herzog for one of his most emotionally and physically taxing roles as a prisoner-of-war attempting to escape his captors through the brutal jungle of Vietnam.

MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

5.Vice

"Vice"

Though the film itself is among the most polarizing in his catalog, there's no denying that Bale is unrecognizable in his Golden Globe-winning performance as the manipulative and power-hungry former vice president.

Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

4.The Fighter

"The Fighter"

Christian Bale notably earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his spellbinding turn as the crack-addicted half-brother and trainer of boxer Micky Ward, embodying a wealth of humanity and empathy while simultaneously showcasing the heartbreaking ease of self-destructive behavior.

Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

3.Empire of the Sun

"Empire of the Sun"

In his breakthrough performance, a young Christian Bale turned the heads of critics and audiences alike by proving himself more than adept at anchoring an epic Steven Spielberg production about a young boy in World War II-era Japanese-occupied Shanghai who must fend for himself after becoming separated from his parents during an evacuation.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

2.The Prestige

"The Prestige"

With a performance that is both enigmatic and captivating in every sense of the word, Christian Bale is unforgettable as the supremely talented rival to Hugh Jackman's increasingly desperate illusionist.

Touchstone Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

1.American Psycho

"American Psycho"

A definitive performance for the Welsh actor, Christian Bale's darkly hilarious and horrific turn as a sociopathic corporate executive, Patrick Bateman, is his most quoted, parodied, and iconic role by a country mile.

Lions Gate / Courtesy Everett Collection